A commissioner’s guide to developing and sustaining local user-led organisations

Good practice videos: Strengthening ULOs' relationships

This section tells the story of the Personalisation Expert Panel (PEP) in Hampshire, where commissioners and ULOs developed a successful approach to developing personalisation plans, strengthening ULOs, improving networking among ULOs, and enabling a dialogue between users, carers and the local authority.

Watch commissioners and service users in Hampshire talking about their experiences of developing a network to strengthen relationships between ULOs and the local authority (2010)

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The story of the PEP

Hampshire is a large county covering both urban and rural areas. It has some substantial ULOs that have a long association with the local authority. One of the biggest, Southampton Centre for Independent Living (SCIL, now Spectrum Centre for Independent Living), celebrated its 25th birthday in 2009. SCIL works closely with many other ULOs, such as Hampshire Centre for Independent Living (HCIL), and also worked with Hampshire County Council (HCC) to set up the Personalisation Expert Panel or PEP.

The PEP brings together a wide range of user-and carer-led organisations with the county’s senior social services managers. Its main purpose is to develop plans for personalisation. But it also provides a way for ULOs to network with one another while also enabling a dialogue to take place between users, carers and the local authority. The PEP is funded by HCC and facilitated by SCIL, who co-chair the group with HCIL and set the agenda for the group. The PEP’s members see the group as being a long-term consultative platform to allow the voice of disabled people in the area to be heard by the local authority and integrated into its work.

The learning that has occurred in Hampshire is relevant to all commissioners who are seeking ways of strengthening both ULOs and their relationship with the local authority.

Note: Southampton Centre for Independent Living changed its name to Spectrum Centre for Independent Living in 2013.

Key learning points

Local authorities and ULOs need to learn to work together

Commissioners need to respect the autonomy of ULOs, particularly when funding them and hearing opinions that don't necessarily align with their own. There will be disagreements, and all partners need to put in effort to make the relationship work. Fundamental to this is open dialogue and being able to challenge one another.

The PEP in Hampshire is run and controlled by the ULOs and this ensures that users and carers can keep the focus on what is important for them. Over time, the PEP is becoming more influential. The PEP has clear terms of reference that outline what the group can and cannot do. To enable this, it was important that the local authority was honest and upfront about what could and could not be changed. The local authority also clearly explains why things can’t happen if they are not taken forward, and how the group is influencing the strategic direction of the local authority.

Local authorities should help ULOs build capacity

In Hampshire’s case, the hosting ULO has a strong infrastructure so it was easy for them to accommodate the work of the PEP within their existing structures. Local authorities need to help capacity build all ULOs to work effectively, and in Hampshire one of the ways in which they have tried to do this is through having a dedicated Engagement Commissioner whose role is to capacity build the ULOs across the county and act as a ‘communicator’ between them and her colleagues in the local authority. As part of their role, they have established a good practice forum across the south-east on involvement.

The involvement of users and carers should be valued

Users and carers are paid their time and expenses for taking part in the PEP. The PEP’s position is to work with those who have something to offer and not to burden those who don’t want to work with the PEP, but to keep them informed. The PEP is a vehicle to enable wider networking among users, carers and local authority managers to allow true co-production to start to happen.

ULOs can promote wider user involvement

Those involved in the PEP are enthusiastic about its potential to be a major influence around promoting inclusion for disabled people. At the same time, they recognise that the PEP isn’t the sole mechanism for user involvement. Part of the value of the PEP is that it can connect to wider groups of people who might like to get more involved in other ways and drive any user involvement strategy. The PEP provides a means for new and emerging groups to gain the support and expertise of existing ULOs.